Tuesday, April 26, 2011


"Creativity can be described as letting go of certainties."

- Gail Sheehy

My cheek is dotted with a line of blemishes. Why, you ask? Because I spent most of Saturday morning, when I wasn’t typing, with a thumb against my cheek (pondering pose). Writer’s hazard, but totally worth it. That’s because:



(It’s hovering around 65k)

Recap: I’ve done this manuscript slower than ever. After conceiving of the idea last spring, wrote a chapter or two. I spent the summer editing other work. When I picked it back up in the fall, I didn’t do much because I wrote two short stories. Then came the full-time job.

No time. No energy.

But I made a few pushes.

And when I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about my writing. Even though I’m still a panster, I developed the next scenes in my head. Though there were plenty of surprises as I wrote, including whole scenes I didn’t envision.

And for the first time, I gave 3 chapters at a time to a critique buddy so she could give me impressions.

How-to write books will say not to do this. Something about creativity fighting with an inner editor.

I’ll tell you another secret. Each time I sit to write for all pieces, I ALWAYS read what I wrote the previous writing session. (And I fix things. Shhhh!) It’s the best way to remember exactly what I wrote, so I keep the flow and the voice.

The reason I pass along bits at a time to my buddy is because if something isn’t clear and needs fixing, and could potentially create a problem throughout the entire manuscript, why not find out NOW? This 2nd set of eyes early on appears to have made my novel tighter. (Obviously delusional...)

Just the other day on Facebook, someone was beside herself because her critique group told her that her YA manuscript didn’t have a teen voice. I bet it would’ve helped her to know that after chapter 3 instead of at The End.

For every author who writes, there is a different style of writing. There’s no formula. Just because something works for most authors most of the time, doesn’t mean it works for me. Or you.

Guidelines are just that. Guidelines.

Write 1k words everyday. Drink 8 glasses of water a day.

(Fail. Fail.)

There are mechanics of writing, and we’ve gotta know that. There’s grammar, plotting, show and not tell. But this is a creative endeavor we’re doing here. Voice, characterization, dialogue - we’re going to have our own stamps for this stuff.

Tahereh Mafi wrote an excellent POST explaining her method to writing and revising.

She states:

…before i got a book deal, a lot of people were telling me i was doing it wrong. people would tell me it wasn't possible to write a decent draft in such a short period of time, that it wasn't possible to be a pantser and write a cohesive novel not filled with plot holes and glaring errors. in short, i became convinced i was writing incorrectly. but i soon discovered that there is no incorrect way to write a novel. my efforts to change these things about myself didn't work. they weren't organic to me and what i needed to do. they were forced and unnatural. i had to revert back to what was comfortable for me.

Good thing she believed in herself. She’s 23 years old and will soon publish her debut novel Shatter Me. And, oh yeah, I think there’s already talk of a movie. So….

We can inhale how-to books,

Scour agents and editor blogs,

Read posts of published authors with a microscope -

Truth is, this whole writing endeavor is a lot of reading, writing, revising. And instinct. The more we read, write, and revise, the better our instincts become.

Then we just need faith. And a bit of luck – right place at the right time.

What writing processes work for you?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Blogging Community

“Social media is not a media. The key is to listen, engage, and build relationships.”
- David Alston

India Drummond , the author of Ordinary Angels , let me write a piece for her BLOG .

This is not an interview.

It’s a heartfelt post, just like I’d have here, explaining what is special to me about the blogging community. Please read it. And if you’d like, you may answer the question I’ve put at the bottom:

What aspect of the blogging community is the most meaningful to you?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Resolutions and Humor

"Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place."

- Mark Twain

In Stina Lindenblatt's “Cool Links Friday”, she shared humor links. I commented on her post:

I'm doing a challenge to infuse humor in my writing and read humorous books this month, so I'm going to check out those links. Thanks!

She asked me if I was going to write about humor.

Hmm, good idea for a blog post….

Many bloggers have some version of a New Year’s resolution post. Ann Ormond Fennel blogged about literary resolutions for 2011 site Literary Resolutions for 2011.

I thought, I may not exercise regularly or eat sensibly, but I’d do 12 literary resolutions. So I sent a request to some bloggers to join me. I started with 5 other participants, but as of April, I think it might be down to Len Lambert and me.

Here’s the short version of the literary challenges:

January: Read a classic that has always been on your list.

February: Write for at least 15 minutes every day.

March: Attend at least two author readings. After hearing from the author, read the book.

April: Find some of the best humor writing and see what makes you laugh out loud. Then, give yourself a humor writing assignment.

May: Spend the month rereading your old work. Invite one piece back into your life for revisions, and a second chance.

June: Get an anthology of poetry and read the same poem twice every day—once in the morning, and once at night.

July: Spend two hours a week working on one long piece.

August: Reread your favorite book from childhood. Why did that book make such an impression on you?

September: Submit to your dream of being a writer. Submit your work to a contest, a local newspaper, a literary journal.

October: Read a best-selling mystery. What can you learn from a well-paced page-turner?

November: Jump on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon and try to write a novel in a month.

December: Buy books, give books, talk about books, and spread your love of literature throughout the holidays.

"In one painless year, you’ve become an active participant in the literary community. You’ve read a classic, you’ve created new work, and you’ve heard new work, you’ve supported authors and not once were you encouraged to get more exercise or cut back on sweets and alcohol."

Here’s how I’ve done so far:

January, I read Pride and Prejudice. A few times, I wished I hadn’t chosen a Victorian classic, but I persevered. February, I started off strong, but then faltered. During February break, I made up with big bouts of writing. I learned I probably won’t ever write for fifteen minutes a day. March, the right writers weren’t speaking by me (though I did see Alice Hoffman in January). So I found interviews on-line for two books I planned to read.

April is humor month.

I read Gossip from the Girls' Room: A Blogtastic Novel by Rose Cooper. What a humorous voice. But I didn’t read it in April so it didn’t count. No matter, I would read Hex Hall. I’d heard it was funny. It was! Now I have to read the sequel, Demonglass.

When I write, I always try to infuse humor into the manuscripts, so this one I have down. Probably. The protagonist’s friend is over the top at times. And I found ways to add humor at my protagonist’s naivety in flashbacks of her childhood.

No matter what the genre (except humor), writers can write the heavy stuff. Writers can make readers think. But as writers and readers, we also need to laugh. Life is hard enough. So, of all the literary challenges, this is my favorite one.

I’ll skip NaNoWriMo, but I plan to do the rest of the challenges. And I may try this (or another version of it) next year. I’ve learned a lot about my writing self. As writers, we often just plug away with the same old, same old. Sometimes we need a challenge.

No physical exercise required.

“A laugh is a surprise. And all humor is physical. I was always athletic, so that came naturally to me.”

- Chevy Chase


Would you try a literary resolution challenge?

Do you infuse humor in your writing?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Learning from Mistakes

"I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell..."

- Richard Wright

Today, I wrote three chapters of Naked Eye. I think there are only four more to go, and one will be short. But who knows? I’m a panster. The nice thing about being a panster is that your manuscript is forever surprising you. I find myself thinking:

Oh that’s why she was so secretive.

If I add this scene, it will tie into that one from the earlier chapter.

I had no idea he felt that way.

Hopefully if the writer is surprised, my someday readers will REALLY be surprised.

As I mentioned the other day, this is my sixth manuscript. Each manuscript has had its own set of problems:

1) Tell instead of show.

2) Age of protagonist. Tell instead of show.

3) Slow plot. Tell instead of show.

4) Too many dialogue tags and adverbs. Vampire story.

5) The word “that” cropped up EVERYWHERE. Preachy.

6) Overuse of “really”. (She is a teen.)

One weakness I possess is sentences. I’ve been told to vary lengths, watch dashes, and so on. With each book, I get better. Last winter and spring, I spent many hours pouring through books on grammar.

Manuscript #6 has taken me the longest to write. I got the idea for it last spring break. Next week it’s spring break again. For EVERY other manuscript before this one, I churned out a rough draft in SIX WEEKS. Last spring break, I wrote the first five pages. Then nothing else for months because I was in the middle of revising manuscript #5 and revisiting manuscript #1.

This fall, I returned to Naked Eye. I got about 18k done. Then I got a full-time job. I wrote in stops and starts, (more stops than starts). Last year, I projected it would be 50k. Today, I dusted off the manuscript and wrote three chapters, and am up to 52,410. Now I believe it will be closer to 60k.

I can’t wait to see how this thing ends.

And I wonder if writing slowly will make it less rough of a rough draft. Since this is the first manuscript I’ve written from scratch since reading all those books on writing and grammar, I also wonder if my writing is more polished in general. Having two short stories accepted has given me more confidence. Have I finally figured it all out for manuscript #6?

Future critique buddies will let me know soon enough. (English majors a plus.)

How about you?

What mistakes have you made?

What have you learned from them?

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Allure of Hope

“When one door closes, don’t worry, because another door opens.”

- Christopher Paul Curtis, Bud, Not Buddy

January and February were full of hope:

01/12 – I queried an agent.

01/13 – Said agent requested a full.

01/23 – I queried an editor.

01/31– I made it on the longlist of 100 stories for Queensland.

02/06 – My short story was accepted in 100 Stories for Queensland! My

FIRST publication credit.

02/14 – Said editor requested a full.

02/24 – I made it to the semifinals of ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel


Then came March, which was dismal:

03/03 - Said editor sent a REJECTION.

100 Stories for Queensland publication date was delayed.

03/19 – Said agent sent a REJECTION.

03/26 – Another year older. Another year agentless.

03/23 – I did not make it to the ABNA quarterfinals.

But April has brought good news:

04/06 - New (and improved) date for 100 Stories for Queensland. Author bios are HERE . In addition to my bio, blogging buddies Jessica Bell and Jennifer (Old Kitty) Domingo are listed too.

04/09 - My short story “Allured” got accepted in an upcoming YA anthology, Fangtales by Wyvern Publications .

Wyvern previously published Dragontales and Mertales .

I also believe this will be the month I complete my YA fantasy, Naked Eye. I’ve written what I think is an amazing query (*cough* Clearly Delusional). I’ll post it on my 2nd blog, Earnest Writer's Excerpts as soon as the draft is done.

I started my first manuscript in April 2006. 5 years ago. When I wrote those first lame lines, I didn’t know writing would take over my life. I didn’t know how much I had to learn. I didn’t know how difficult it would be. I didn’t know how many times I’d be rejected. I didn’t know the emotions that would swirl within me. I didn’t realize there’d be the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

Now I do.

On 03/29, I read Tiana Smith’s humorous and truthful post, Pros and Cons of Being a Writer . She stated authors write an average of 6 manuscripts before they’re published.

Naked Eye will be my 6th manuscript. This means this could be THE ONE. It also means some people are published from their first book, while others toil away at 12 or more. I heard that Beth Revis , author of Across the Universe, which is part of an impressive 3-book deal, wrote 10 manuscripts before becoming published.

4 months

3 close calls

2 future publishing credits

1 dream.

I have to have hope I'll achieve it.

Writers, where are you on your writing journey?

Care to confess how many manuscripts you’ve written?

Or how many manuscripts it took to become published?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Short and Sweet

“Fantasies are more than substitutes for unpleasant reality; they are also dress rehearsals, plans. All acts performed in the real world begin in the imagination.”

- Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

Brooke R. Busse has interviewed me about writing fantasy. Please visit her BLOG. It’s short and sweet.

I hope you're all having a wonderful, warm weekend.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Unforeseen Circumstances

“Hello, hello

I don’t know why you say goodbye

I say hello”*

Friday was supposed to be the last day teaching on my own. Students and teachers did and said a boatload of lovely things.

Monday was supposed to be the transition day. I dreaded it. Partly because of the limited communication I’d had with the teacher. What would she think of what I’d accomplished? How would it be running the classes with her observing me? But I worked hard on Monday; filling her in on the nearly six months she’d left.

It was really ending.

That morning, the assistant principal asked me to take care of report cards that were due the following week and do 2 hours of parent-teacher conferences. “You can leave two hours early.” Leaving 2 hours early would make up for the conferences, but not for the hours it would take me to tally the report card grades. Not to mention grades weren’t supposed to close for a few more days, so students hadn’t exactly rushed to hand in outstanding work.

The assistant principal also asked me to find out if the teacher needed a 2nd transition day. I told the teacher I could spend the 2nd day calculating the grades. She agreed. It took me nearly all day Tuesday, but I got them done, even writing down the comment codes. I handed them to her, reminding her that the grades couldn’t be posted on-line yet, and I wouldn’t be able to do it later in case she got more work back and had to adjust a few of the grades.

She actually looked a little crestfallen.

Throughout the day, it was hard to stop in and see her running the classes.

Tuesday night, I felt odd. I was full of anxiety as it hit me I had just taken a significant pay cut and was going to back to all the uncertainty being a daily sub entails. Although I was exhausted, I forced myself to stay up until 11pm, knowing I had the next day off before I put myself on the sub list.

And I was going to sleep in until 6:30 am so I’d have some coffee and get the kids off to school. An extra half-hour – imagine!

Wednesday morning, I began tossing and turning, thinking of the couple of assignments that hadn’t been handed in. I reminded myself it wasn’t my problem anymore.

That did nothing to cheer me up. Or put me back to sleep.

I checked the clock. 5:56 am. Great. Getting up normal time anyway.

Exhausted, I poured my coffee and ambled into the living room. After leisurely checking Yahoo, I switched to Gmail. The teacher sent me an e-mail thanking me and asking if I would sub on Wednesday. First I thought she meant the following Wednesday. But then I realized the subject line read, “Tomorrow”.

This Wednesday.

“I am not going to be in because of unforeseen circumstances.”


“You say why and I say I don’t know

Oh no”*

I hadn’t picked out clothes.

I had just said goodbye to everyone.

When I arrived at the school, a parent and student were waiting. I went over grades. After that, I realized a meeting with a parent and a wayward student was taking place. I went to that.

Then I mostly hid in my office because it was too bizarre to explain to EVERYONE that I was a daily sub today, but not Monday, and they’d seen me Tuesday.

I received an e-mail from another teacher, telling me, “I miss you already.”

My reply? “I’m just down the hall.”

First class, I was in a slightly bitter mood. I’d made a packet so they’d mostly leave me alone while I called students over about grades and missing work.

Second class, I walked in and said:

“I am your sub. My name is Ms. Milstein, but in case that’s hard to remember, you can call me, ‘Ms. M.’” And I wrote my name on the board.

They asked if I knew their names. One student used to ask me that each time I subbed last year. I'd always remembered his name. I pretended to mix up their names this time.

I decided to do my favorite stock lesson about the principle of ahimsa and Gandhi, MLK, and Mandela. The one I try to squeeze into every class. It’s beyond time and place, so I can use it with virtually any grade. Since they’re about to learn about exploration and it has to do with the legacy of colonization and slavery, it was perfect timing. I had the students enraptured. It was amazing.

I wonder when I’ll get to experience that again.

The third class usually gets too chatty. I was having none of it. I even reminded them I’d be happy to stay after school if they didn’t want to get their work done. I may be a sub, but I’m still a teacher. Their teacher.

For the day.

Fourth class is usually pretty good for me, though they’re the most difficult of all. It hadn’t gone unnoticed by me how quiet they were for the teacher who returned. I told them I expected the same. And I gave them the same threat as the previous class.

It went pretty well.

Before I left, another middle school teacher came over to me, asking me to sub the next morning. She has a student teacher, so I won’t be bumbling along in my math-cluelessness alone.

Yeah, the students will have to see me today. And guess what? The Social Studies teacher will be teaching the subject I love nearby.

This saga is getting sagaier.

“You say yes

(I say yes)

I say no

(But I may mean no)

You say stop

(I can stay)

And I say go, go, go

(‘Til it’s time to go)”

* - McCartney, Paul; Lennon, John. Song, “Hello Goodbye”, The Beatles.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Reviews and Responsibilities

“’But the emperor has nothing on at all!’ said a little child.”

- Hans Christian Andersen

This is going to be a controversial post.

Because I’m not on Twitter (and maybe live under a rock), I was the last to know there had been a hullabaloo regarding a critique of a book by a blogger. I’m not going to mention the name of the book-reviewing blogger or the self-published author that had a very public meltdown in the comments section of the review post.

Until recently, people rarely self-published. And books were reviewed through traditional print channels. There was no relationship between reviewer and author, so reviews had cart-blanche to be as nasty as they wanted to be.

The Internet and self-publishing have democratized publishing and reviewing for authors.

This is great.

And not so great.

Last summer, I attended a BlogHer conference that touted the glories of getting your book out there (as long as it sparkles) without much stigma. And they said how great it was that bloggers and reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon have pretty much taken over the reviewing books.

But there’s another side.

Among quality e-books, there are those littered with spelling and grammar error and awkward sentences that any copy editors would’ve caught. I’ve seen mistakes on the FIRST PAGE.

And for all books, I’ve read many gleaming reviews, so I’ve run out and spent hundreds of dollars only to find out that most of these books didn’t live up to the hype.

I’ve had blogging buddies tell me they’ve bumped up reviews in order to spare an author’s feelings. Or if they haven’t liked a book, they’ve contacted the author privately and haven’t posted a review.

The result? I’ve become skeptical of reviews.

Recently, I posted a review of To Kill a Mockingbird on Goodreads. It’s my favorite book. I gave it 5 stars. It made me think about the other books I’ve rated 5 stars. In the review, I wrote:

I read books that have all the right ingredients: good pacing, interesting/sympathetic characters, believability, just the right detail, compelling story. And I give them a 5. I'm pretty spare with the 5's I give.

But there should be a category for 6 stars. For those books that meet all the criteria and more. The ones that touch you, are so powerful, with such superb writing, few can touch them. This is such a book.

I fear 5 stars has become somewhat of a joke.

Read Karen Gowen’s post about why she doesn’t mind receiving 2 Stars .

And she’s willing to give 2 Stars .

And why should she mind?

1 star means, “I didn’t like it.”

2 stars means, “It was okay.” Okay ISN’T bad. There was some issue or some issues for the reader, but it wasn’t awful. Why do we interpret it that way?

3 stars means, “I liked it.” Most books fall in that range. Why are we afraid to say it?

4 stars means, “I really liked it.” That’s a fair option for books that sweep me along but I have an issue or two.

5 stars means, “It was amazing.” Do all the books we're laving 5 stars on really amaze us?

Not having a 5-star rating won’t break a book. It won’t break an author. When I see 5-10 positive reviews on Amazon, with no negative ones, I don’t believe those reviews come from anyone but friends and family. Even Harry Potter books have negative reviews, and J.K. Rowling has created an empire with her books. I am a mother of two children who wishes I could attend Hogwarts.

And there are readers who don’t agree with me.

When authors become big, few readers worry about hurting their feelings.

Writing hurts.

When we do it well, we dig deep to expose our deepest selves.

Then we send our work off for critique.

Speaking of critique, if we have critique buddies and beta readers who only serve to pat us on the back and tell us how great we are, does that improve our writing?


If that’s what we expect from our reviewers, we’re going to sell a few books we haven’t otherwise.

But I don’t think we’ll make it for the long haul.

Especially with YA. Is the actual YA audience reading our reviews? No. They’re going by word of mouth. A teen isn’t worried about an author’s feelings.

This March, I didn’t make it to the third round of ABNA. What I did get was a critique. A harsh one. Another blogger received a harsh critique last year, so I was prepared for it. Nobody has been that blunt about what would make it better. I can do an overhaul or I can take what I’ve learned and not make the same mistake with my almost-completed WIP.

I’ve survived.

And I’m better for it.

Back to that blogger who reviews books. He does self-published authors a big service by reviewing their books. His review was kind, considering the big problems I found when I downloaded the first chapter onto my computer. He complimented the plot and the character’s emotions.

His critique was the awkward language and mistakes pulled him out of the story.

They pulled me out too.

If he’d written a false review or refused to review it, I wouldn’t know it had problems. I might have bought the book. And I would’ve been upset if the reviews steered me in the wrong direction.

The author accused the reviewer of having the wrong copy. He looked at the new copy, which had the same mistakes (as did my pulled chapter from Amazon). She accused him of lying. He was classy. And most of the early commenters were actually trying to give the author advice to stop commenting because she was digging her own grave. But that didn’t stop until she’d said some very rude things; one of them to an agent who’d commented anonymously.

Damage done.

It got brutal after that. People actually posted fake reviews on Amazon, so she now has 1-½ stars.

She behaved unprofessionally. Other self-published authors feel she’s tarnished the image of self-publishing that was just gaining credibility.

I can identify with what happened to that author as a writer who doesn’t want her feelings hurt.

But I choose to identify as a writer and reader who wants the truth.

As an author, do you want to be the emperor with no clothes?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

5, 4, 3, 2, 1… CONTEST - WINNERS!

March Madness is at an end (pretty much). April Fool’s Day tricked us into thinking it was still winter with some slushy snow in New England. Now on this sunny weekend, it’s time to announce the winners!

Winner of Elana Johnson’s YA Dystopian Possession ARC:

LOLA SHARP! at Sharp Pen/Dull Sword!

Winner of the $25 Amazon Gift Card:

LIZ! at Laws of Gravity

(Pssst, she’s got a funny blog about subbing!)

Winner of the Possession Bookmark:

JANET SUMNER JOHNSON at Musings of a Children’s Writer

Winner of her very own Question to Elana Johnson

Elana Johnson answered by Elana Johnson on VIDEO!

NATALIE AGUIRRE! at Literary Rambles!

Her question:

After seeing the debuts of your friends in the Class of 2011, what have you learned about creative ways to market your book and what are you using from what you learned?

(Answer coming to my blog soon.)

Jonathan Arnston is also announcing his winners to his an Ask Elana two questions contest, so check out his BLOG .

Again, thank you for following, commenting, and for your support.

Love, Theresa